I’d forgotten this feeling: the twisted stomach; queuing up for the start line with your heart rate already registering 110bpm; trying to focus your mind on where you want the bike to go and not the impending doom of what’s probably more likely to happen. Racing, what joy.
The season started in earnest this weekend with the first round of the Portuguese National DH Series in Sao Bras. It’s a UCI event so as well as the leading Portuguese riders there’s also quite a crowd out here from the UK. GT’s Sam Dale; Madison Saracen’s Matt Simmonds and Mark Beaumont; Jack Reading and his entire One Vision Global Racing team are all here, as well as a host of British Downhill Series winners who are claiming their prizes of a free week’s riding with Ride Portugal and quite a few of those have brought their mates along as well. What am I doing here? Well, Revolution Bike Park Racing team mate Binnsy was one of those BDS winners and he also came out and raced this event last year. I somehow convinced a pre-pregnant Mrs Making Up The Numbers to grant me a pass. I can’t remember what I did to obtain the pass, but whilst I’ve been away she’s purchased a new car and I’ve been assured that if it isn’t right, it will be my fault for not being around to give an opinion. In my absence the baby has also kicked for the first time. Another thing to add to the list of significant milestones missed whilst being away either biking or working. It’s a long list. Anyway…
We’ve been out in Portugal since Tuesday and we’ve been riding Ride Portugal’s amazing DH trails in Lagos. It’s been eventful. I’ve ridden pretty fast at times but I’ve been using up lives like an alley cat. The first race of the season is usually my best result. I put this down to the fact that over the winter I somehow convince myself that I’m much better than I actually am. I then manage to ride at this level for a short period of time, generally just long enough to survive the first race of the season and then I have a big crash which pushes a reset button and I return to previous levels. Thus, I’m pretty excited to go racing.
The €25 race entry fee (€10 if you’re registered with the Portuguese Federation) includes a Friday afternoon uplift which is incredible value compared to a U.K. race. As are the 12 beers for €10 that they’re selling at the bar. Sitting on the side of a pickup truck on the uplift, one hand clutching your bike, the other anything you can hold on to, you soon realise that the health and safety maybe isn’t quite as sharp but the organisation is excellent and who needs fingers anyway? In short we’re all here for the weather really, but it isn’t playing ball. 45mph crosswinds and a jump laden track don’t really go hand in hand, add in persistent showers and it’s more Blackpool in April than the Med in June.
The track is quite straightforward but it’s incredibly fast and there are some decent sized features. We manage to get 4 runs in on Friday but due to the adverse weather even the Elites are going round the jumps. At least we’ve had a good look at the track though and the forecast looks better for Saturday, so we tell ourselves we’ll hit everything then. By Saturday lunchtime the only thing I’ve hit though is the ground and I’ve knackered the rebound cartridge on a rear shock and trashed a wheel. Downhill is such a head **** at times. Jack Reading saves the day, lending me his spare rear shock and with just 90 mins of practice for the mortals remaining the sun came out, the wind died down and I somehow managed to piece a run together hitting all the features aside from the absolutely massive gap jump. Then, I managed to string it all together again on a GoPro run which clocked in at 3:06. You can watch that here. My aim before I arrived was to get under 3 minutes so that’s definitely possible. Masters National Champion Neil White has a big off in the rock garden on his last run of the day smashing his hand but we’re all heading back to the villa in one piece and we’re excited for Sunday.
Sunday didn’t start too well though. The wind and rain were back and both my practice runs were marred by yellow flags and riders stopping or slowing down and blocking jumps. I seeded 7th/14 with a 3:08 and had fellow Brits either side of me. Andy Horsburgh from the Royal Navy (or Uncle Albert as we christened him after hearing several naval disaster stories) has been riding brilliantly all week and he bags a 3:02, Jason Holland a 3:09.
Binnsy seeds 3rd in the Grand Vets with Steve Felstead in 5th. Their major concern is that the riders going off in front of them are minutes slower and with 30 second gaps between riders leaving the start hut they’re going to catch them and then have to somehow pass them. If it was a UK race they’d ask for a minute gap but it’s a UCI event so everything runs exactly to time.
In the Elites Jack Reading was looking super smooth in practice and as the highest ranked UCI rider went off last in seeding, but Matt Simmonds pipped him into first place. Come the race I thought I’d put a good run together but when I looked over my shoulder the clock had stopped at 3:09, a second slower than seeding. Jason managed a 3:07 so we swapped places in the rankings. Uncle Albert hammered us both though, just a smidgen over 3 minutes. The riders in front of Binnsy and Steve didn’t actually cause them too much trouble but one of the locals improved massively on his seeding run, pushing them into 4th and 5th respectively. Neither of them are thrilled.
I’m sure it’s no coincidence but within seconds of the old boys finishing, the bar was heaving with arthritic fingers trying to somehow drink and hold 12 beers at a time.
Sarah Crellin has been pushing hard in the elite women all weekend and by pushing hard I mean crashing a lot. I thought I was hard on bikes but she’s half my weight and destroying parts at a similar rate. Madison Saracen’s Junior Female National Champion Aston Tutt had her fingers strapped up after a big crash but still rode on. Sarah crashed in seeding and in her race run but still managed to place an impressive 3rd.
The Elite Men’s podium is an all British affair but the Portuguese don’t seem to mind. I’m stood halfway up the final straight as the final few riders come through and although I can’t see the live timing I can work out who’s gone fastest by the increases in volume and excitement in the Portuguese commentator’s voice. A few moments after Sam Dale flies past me Portugal’s answer to Rob Warner goes ballistic. Sambo’s in the hot seat for quite a while with a 2:25.9. Mark Beaumont ends up 4th, just 0.084 behind Sam. Jack Reading takes 3rd, just 0.01 behind Sam, but Matt Simmonds smoked them all with a 2:24 taking the win by nearly 2 seconds. Full results are available here.
Over the course of the next few hours sorrows are drowned, successes are celebrated and Uncle Albert’s on a mission, somehow appearing from a motorway service station with a handful of 2 litre bottles of beer. On the way back to the villa every sentence seems to start with “during the war…” The party carries on but I manage to excuse myself with the words “got a race report to write”. Overall, I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t manage a better time but hey, that’s racing. It’s been a cracking week and I know that if things had gone my way on Friday and Saturday I’d have been faster on Sunday. I’ll be back in the saddle for the first round of the SDA up at Ae Forest in 2 weeks time.
Right, back to the UK to assess the bright orange nearly new Jeep Renegade that’s sat on our drive. Please God, let it not be a pig to drive…